Gold-filled fabrication metals and findings allow you to design with the rich color of gold at a fraction of the cost of solid gold and offer a higher quality than is available from gold-plated pieces.
Gold-filled materials are made by heat- and pressure-bonding a layer of karat gold to a brass (or other base metal) core.
How It’s Labeled
The “14/20” or “12/10” notation you see on gold-filled products refers to the industry shorthand describing the resulting material. The first number is the karat purity of the gold used; the second number is the amount, by weight, of gold in relation to the base-metal core.
“14/20” gold-filled material is made with 14-karat gold, and the quantity of gold represents 1/20th (or 5 percent) of the total weight of the material. You may occasionally see other notations, too; each will inform you about the material’s make-up. For example, “14/40” gold-filled is composed of 14-karat gold that represents 1/40th (or 2.5%) of the overall weight of the material.
The value of gold-filled is greater than gold-plated because gold-filled has an actual layer of karat gold on the surface, not just a microscopic film, as is the case with gold-plated items.
Single-Clad vs. Double-Clad
In double-clad sheet, discs and other findings, the bonded gold is distributed to both sides of the brass (or base metal) sheet. In findings, the same amount of gold is distributed so as to cover all sides of the finding.
In single-clad sheet, the gold layer is bonded to one side of the sheet of brass.
Working with Gold-Filled
Gold-filled requires some special care to keep the gold layer intact and unmarred for your designs. Keep these things in mind when you’re working with gold-filled materials.
- If handled properly, gold-filled should require only buffing. Polish lightly or tumble finish instead of using more direct buffing. Tumbling in steel shot is a great option because it’s a non-abrasive technique, so there’s no chance of removing the gold layer. Keep in mind that tumbling in steel shot will not remove scratches, so it’s important to avoid scratching the material as you work with it.
- If you cut it, be careful not to scratch or damage the gold layer, particularly on corners and edges.
- Gold-filled stock should be stored in a dry place. The outside layer is karat gold, so it will not tarnish as quickly as sterling silver. However, tarnishing elements act very slowly in the absence of moisture.
- When storing, use tissue paper between stock to protect it against scratches. Scratches can be difficult to remove without exposing the underlying brass layer.
- Cover working surfaces with a clean flannel cloth while working on gold-filled material to protect the gold surface layer from your bench pin or hard edges on your working area.
- Maintaining the condition of your tools is important. Keep cutters sharp; bending tools should be smooth and non-marring.
- Use extra care when soldering gold-filled materials. Any blemishes you create will need to be sanded out with great care to avoid exposing the brass core. Use a firescale retardant such as Stop-Ox II™ to avoid having to do heavy finishing to remove firescale.
- If your design will leave cut edges of sheet or wire exposed, consider how you will cover the brass core. Leaving the brass exposed will create an uneven color and will cause the gold layer to tarnish more quickly. Pen or bath plating is a simple way to cover exposed edges.